Priest Defrocked in Wisconsin Won't Get Financial Help from Archdiiocese

By Gretchen Ehlke
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 1, 2012

MILWAUKEE The Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a former priest who received money to leave the ministry after allegations of sexual abuse say that payment and others were a form of charity meant to help men transition to a new life.

The archdiocese acknowledged paying suspected pedophile clergy after an abuse victims' group produced a court document on Wednesday that mentioned a 2003 proposal to pay $20,000 to "unassignable priests" who agree to leave the ministry. The document from the archdiocese's bankruptcy proceedings includes minutes from a 2003 meeting of its Finance Council, which included then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a St. Louis native who is now a cardinal and head of the New York archdiocese.

Council members discussed how the church should handle sexual abuse complaints, a potential budget deficit and how to cut costs. The $20,000 payments were among the options mentioned.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests characterizes the payments as a payoff to priests who molested children.

"This was a signing bonus for signing papers that would be sent to the Vatican," SNAP Midwest director Peter Isely said. "They needed to have been fired. You don't pay someone who has committed a criminal act. You fire them. Period."

The archdiocese says similar payments were made to men leaving the priesthood long before allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in the Roman Catholic church. Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said the payments were a type of severance pay.

"In a sense, it was a sense of charity to help those men transition from the clergy state to the lay state," Wolf said. The church has a responsibility not only to victims of clergy abuse, but to those accused of abuse, she said.

It made sense at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal to "move these men out of the priesthood as quickly as possible" and the money helped the men with the transition, Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff to Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said in a letter sent to church members Thursday. But the archdiocese has since ended the payments, he said.

Listecki also said any future reports of sexual abuse would be referred to civil authorities if the accused was still alive, and the priest would be immediately removed from ministry.

Because the process of leaving the priesthood can take several years, Wolf said, the payments to accused priests are meant to quickly move them out of the ministry and save costs because a priest's salary alone can be about $55,000 a year.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying that when it "removes a priest from public ministry due to allegations of abuse, the priest is given a monthly stipend to cover basic needs, such as housing and health insurance. In no instance has a priest been paid to apply for laicization."

The Milwaukee archdiocese acknowledged in 2006 that it gave $10,000 to former priest Franklyn Becker to help pay his health insurance until he became eligible for Medicare.

Dolan, who was archbishop when the payment was made, has denied allegations it was a payoff.

Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the New York archdiocese, said Thursday that "the cardinal has read and supports the statements that came out of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee" and would have no further comment on the issue.

Dolan asked then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, to defrock Becker in 2003, about two weeks after Becker was arrested in California in connection with a sexual assault there in the 1970s. Becker was removed from the priesthood in 2004.


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